Star Wars fans have May the 4th day. Pot heads have cannabis day on April 20th. God might as well have 3-16 day, as in John 3:16, the most famous of the Christian Scriptures. Here it is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This verse gives us some astounding distinctions of the Christian faith. First, Christianity puts “acceptance” before “works.” In other world religions and in society in general, it’s the other way around. We’re swimming in a culture that puts works before acceptance. If you do the right things, you’ll get the right rewards. That’s the gist. Be a good student, get a good grade. Be a good worker, get good pay. Be a good athlete, get a starting position. Have the right looks, get the affirmation. Have the right friends, get the attention. Keep the right commandments, get salvation. That’s how it typically works in both the world and religion. The way of Jesus, however, thunders onto the scene, flipping our comfortable system on its head. Jesus puts acceptance before works, smashing our efforts with his grace. God gives us acceptance first and only then does he tell us how to follow him (works). Good works are not the requirement for his acceptance; good works are what we can do to draw nearer to the wonderful God who first accepted us.
Second, God’s stance toward you is love. He is not angry and unloving toward you. He is love toward you; he is “good” toward you. Until you know that God is good toward you, then you won’t approach him. Let’s say that in the other room there was either a hungry lion or a pot of gold. Before you opened the door, you would need to know which one it was. If it was a hungry lion, you would not go in. But if it were a pot of gold, then you would go in. God is not a hungry lion, God is a pot of gold. In Jesus Christ, there’s a storehouse full of treasure, waiting for you. God is love toward you. He wants to have a relationship with you. He wants you to know how deeply he loves you. He doesn’t want your good works, he wants you. He doesn’t want to know what you can do for him; he wants you to know what he has done (and can do) for you.
Third, he defines the word “love” for us. The best definition of love comes from God, who gave his only Son in order to save his enemies. Love is sacrifice, in other words. God does not make the world pay for its sins, he made his Son pay for the world’s sins. God chose to sacrifice his Son Jesus rather than sacrifice the world.
Fourth, God’s grace is offensive. Can you believe that God would let sinners off the hook? He does. What if a serial killer, at the end of his life, turned to God in faith and received his gift of salvation. Would God forgive him? Yes, though we might not forgive him, God would. To be frank, that’s offensive to us. We demand that people pay for their wrongs, but God demanded that his Son Jesus pay for our wrongs. We can’t fathom loving like God loves. God so loved the world that he gave his perfect Son for sinners, so that the world might not be destroyed. Our sense of justice, which is not a bad thing, wants sinners to be destroyed. Out of love for you, he doesn’t destroy you, but destroys his Son instead. Jesus got justice; we got grace. No matter what you do, God will love you; in other words, there is no sin that causes him to walk out the door.
Fifth, our faith glues us to God’s gift of grace. Our good works don’t give us God’s grace, our faith does. To “believe,” as the verse says, means to point your life toward God and head his direction. God becomes the new goal of your life. You no longer operate according to works-before-acceptance. Instead, you operate out of acceptance-before-works, and that makes all the difference in the world. You let God save you and you trust him to do so. You stop killing yourself to gain acceptance in this world, and trust that the acceptance that God has for you in Jesus is all that you’ll ever need.
To believe is to set your course on “eternal life.” All trials end in triumph. All suffering ends in salvation. Life will not overcome you, but you will overcome death. The one who believes, walks boldly toward the eternal city of God.
© Samuel Kee, 2012